Thursday, December 30, 2004 / News / Local / Mass. / City cracks down on Boston tradition of reserving parking spaces
People in Chicago do the same thing. They shovel out enough room for their own car, leaving a huge pile at either end that is somebody else's problem, put rusty lawn furniture on the street, and say this 20 feet of public property is now their private little paradise until spring. Then if somebody moves the junk and parks in "their" spot, it's fight time. Seems like unlawful conversion of public property to a private use, without compensation. Sort of a reverse takings clause situation.

BOSTON -- There's an unwritten code of urban etiquette on Boston's narrow neighborhood streets: You shovel a parking space and it's yours until enough snow has melted to unclog the streets. But this year, the city is cracking down on this age-old rule and warning residents that it will no longer tolerate the garbage cans, chairs, boxes and even Christmas trees that litter the streets, saving spaces for those who put in the sweat to clear them.The change is not coming without a fight.

AZ HOA Legislation Is Step In Right Direction,says Silver Haired Legislature

By Barbara Epperson
Arizona Silver Haired Legislature

The Legislature took significant strides in the right direction for individual homeowners in the recently concluded 46th regular session.

Faced with 17 bills relating to planned community and homeowner concerns, lawmakers passed 13. Nine bills that directly relate to homeowner associations (HOAs) have been signed into law.
Residents get snowed after asking city help

Fred Pilot somehow unearthed this story from a Utah paper. HOAs don't get no respect--or snow plowing.

...members of the Renaissance HOA (Home Owners' Association) also approached Cedar Hills, asking the city to either make the streets in the PRD public and take over maintenance, or to snowplow the streets for them in winter. City staff gave the HOA the name of the snowplowing company it contracts to do public roads, suggesting residents contract with the same company. According to Cedar Hills city ordinance, the city is prohibited from maintaining private roads unless the roads are made to comply with city standards in width and sidewalk improvements.
Condo ombudsman works long-distance
Florida's first condominium ombudsman now has his own phone number, but it is long distance for most of the Floridians who want his services. The number, 850-922-7671, rings in Virgil R. Rizzo's new Tallahassee headquarters. But since he hasn't moved to the capital, he retrieves the messages from his Fort Lauderdale apartment. Since his appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush early this month, Rizzo has personally responded to more than 200 phone calls -- 98 percent from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with the balance from Pensacola to Daytona Beach and Stuart to Naples. Eventually Rizzo, a retired lawyer and physician, will have a toll-free number and open branch offices throughout the state with local numbers.

I envision one of those phone banks you see on PBS telethons with a couple of dozen operators, and a big state map on the wall behind them with little blinking lights.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Yahoo! News - Sales of Existing Homes Hit Record High
Sales of previously owned homes in November posted their best month on record as low mortgage rates enticed buyers to live the American dream.
The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, totaled an all-time monthly high of 6.94 million units, representing a 2.7 percent increase from October's pace. While some other recent reports raised questions as to whether the high-flying housing market might be losing a bit of altitude, Wednesday's report suggested the sector is still humming along.
Debris Removal A No-Brainer
Florida newspaper weighs in on the side of gated communities in FEMA debate:

FEMA's official policy maintains that gated communities are private property and removing their debris "does not necessarily serve the public interest" because their mountains of storm debris don't really pose a hazard to the "community at large." Does that mean people living in hundreds of gated communities across South Florida are not part of the "community at large," merely because they enjoy the extra security of a guarded entrance? Does their choice to throw up a gate and their agreement to maintain the roads behind it make them immune from disasters that know no such borders? Hardly. Buying a home, whether it be in a homeowner's association without walls or one guarded by a gate, should not limit its owner from inclusion in society, or from federal aid for legitimate needs. Removing storm debris, especially in genuine disaster areas, certainly applies.
U. S. Bunkers - life assurance, not life insurance.
Mystery Reader sent me this link. Get yours while you still can...and watch the skies.

I like the red, white, and blue one, myself.
Public vs. private interests--USSC sets date for Kelo case hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Feb. 22 in a case that should be of intense interest to Colorado - and, for that matter, every other state. The issue is whether the U.S. Constitution places any practical limit on the right of local governments to condemn private property in the name of economic development.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Idaho Mountain Express: Keeping Ketchum 'open' - December 29, 2004

Nothing announces a community's frigid unneighborliness and the personal fear of its residents than gates that seal some people in and seal others out.

The Ketchum City Council spotted the unwelcome nature of this architectural appurtenance for what it is, and moved quickly to ban gates and "gated communities" as a matter of zoning law
HOA ban on rentals may cool home sales
Note the name of this HOA. Agritopia? Excuse me--does that sound at all derivative? But the real reason for including this extract is to highlight the point Fred Pilot astutely picked up on. HOA lawyer Scott Carpenter says first that no-rent clauses are like municipal ordinances, then says that they are private contracts. As Fred says, this is a good example of the industry "attempting to straddle the line between HOAs as public vs. private entities."

Every house along the neatly planned streets of Agritopia has a porch, a patch of grass and a little slice of the American dream. The idyllic "country" living appeals to newcomers flocking to Gilbert every month. But don't look to rent a home there. Homeowners in Agritopia sign contracts prohibiting them from renting out their homes beyond a room, guesthouse or garage apartment...HOAs' changing their rules to prohibit rentals is similar to cities' changing their zoning codes. It's a move that is within the rights of the governing body, argues Scott Carpenter, an attorney who represents homeowners associations. "When you choose to live in a planned community, it's a contractual matter, not a property-rights issue," he said.
Attorney Frank Askin's appellate brief in Twin Rivers
Check this out for the definitive statement of the "HOA as state actor" argument.
The News-Press: Cape Coral - Cape faces Sunset wrath
Dozens of angry Sunset Towers Condominium residents confronted Cape Coral city officials Monday, accusing them of conspiring with developers and trying to force elderly residents from their hurricane-damaged homes.

Amid jeers, hisses and outbursts of name-calling, city officials defended their actions as concern for the residents' health and safety.
The New York Times > National > Yard Display's Neighbors Wish for a Silent Night
At 6 o'clock on Friday, as a crystalline blue dusk descended over the desert valley, Chris Birkett began his nightly Christmas extravaganza, turning his modest house and yard into "Winter Wonderland," a blazing filigree of up to 150,000 lights forming Santas, reindeer, "Nutcracker" characters, snowflakes, stars and American flags, under puffs of soap bubbles and sprays of artificial snow.

With it came blaring Disney music and narration that echoed up and down the quiet residential block: "Do you believe in magic? Look to the sky and make a wish. Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might."

The family next door wishes he would just shut up.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Boing Boing: Tsunami blog coverage: updates
After uncannily foreshadowing this week's Asian earthquake in an e-mail message, Mystery Reader sends the link to this post on key blogs for following the aftermath of the quake. | 12/26/2004 | Animosity lingers after flag dispute
Fred Pilot passed this one along--another senseless anti-flag campaign by an HOA, and the unpleasant aftermath:

American flags fly freely now in the Heritage Place subdivision, but Euless resident Linda Martin, who championed the cause, continues to struggle for neighborhood harmony. Martin raised the flag issue after the July Fourth holiday when she was told to remove her American flag because of a deed restriction. After an onslaught of criticism, the Heritage Place board of directors in August lifted the restriction, reportedly enacted as precaution against people who don't maintain their flags. All homeowners association board members resigned after residents circulated a petition requesting their removal. A new five-member board is in place and plans to present general policies at a meeting in January.
Gated communities in Palm Beach County want FEMA cleanup cash
Another example of the betwixt-and-between status of HOAs:

Grasping at whatever hope there is, county officials and community leaders are seeking federal reimbursement of thousands of dollars spent clearing debris after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The issue remains mostly unsettled for gated communities that paid haulers to pick up fallen tree limbs and other vegetation from their roadways, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers private and ineligible for assistance. But with the backing of two county commissioners, community leaders are gambling on a payback...An explanation of the policy in an internal FEMA memo from late September states: "[R]emoval of debris from private property, including roadways in private and gated communities, does not necessarily serve the public interest because the restrictions inherent to private or gated communities limit the exposure of the community-at-large to the hazard posed by the debris."
8 Glendale, AZ, HOAs given fix-up funds by city officials
Fred Pilot found this example of city governments giving $$ to HOAs.
News - Cat-leash rule riles homeowner -
I have never heard of a municipality doing this, so maybe this association has broken new ground. The lack of common sense is stunning. This sort of thing predictably generates bad press, and that provides a hook for an enterprising legislator to get easy publicity by introducing a silly piece of legislation to ban an even sillier HOA rule.

Homeowners associations have made national headlines in recent years for enforcing arbitrary rules - from the color of house paint used to types of lawn ornaments allowed. Now, this rule that requires cats be leashed or confined indoors is attracting the attention of homeowner advocates and state lawmakers seeking change. Residents of Village Greens are required to leash their pets when in the community's common areas or face a $50 fine per violation, according to copies of the association's governing documents.
Lighthouse Rotating Homes and Commercial Structures
If you are interested in the concept of rotating homes and other structures, check out this link, sent to me by Don Dunick, who has built a rotating home in New Zealand.

Lighthouse Projects
67 Cavan St, Annerley, QLD, 4103, Australia
Phone +61 7 3255 8855, Fax +61 7 3848 5223
Give Up the Suburb? Yes. Give Up the Car? No Way
Many urban planners firmly believe that if they can just get enough control over the built environment they can produce the kind of social change they want. They think, for example, that if they can create "pedestrian friendly" neighborhoods we will all ride around on bikes like Chinese factory workers, and then urban planners will have saved the planet from the internal combustion engine. Then, along comes reality...

When urban planners first talked about the new residential boom in downtown Los Angeles, they conjured up idyllic streets where pedestrians — their cars sold to ex-neighbors in the suburbs — strolled happily to work along streets lined with cafes and bookstores. People are moving downtown, all right. But this is L.A. So they're bringing their cars with them. And now local officials, who just a few years ago stopped requiring developers to build parking spaces in most loft buildings, are scrambling to accommodate automobiles — and their owners — downtown.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

ScrappleFace: Bush Now Proposes to 'Public-ize' Social Security
I guess it's all in the way you say it...

Under pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President George Bush today scrapped his plans to privatize Social Security and offered instead a new plan to "public-ize" the retirement system. "I want to keep our promise to America's seniors," said Mr. Bush. "So, instead of privatizing their government-owned retirement accounts, I propose that we public-ize Social Security--in other words, we're going to return the money to the public while we still have some to return." Mr. Bush said he reversed course after learning from Democrat strategist George Lakoff that all policy questions were really "about words and craftsmanship" rather than the substance of the proposed policies. "I've always been a student of the English language," said Mr. Bush. "I suddenly realized that if you say 'privatize', it sounds like that money belonged to the government in the first place. That ain't right."
SSRN-Do You Have A Case Under the New Bill of Rights: A Checklist by John Ryskamp
Here's a link to a fascinating new piece by John Ryskamp. Readers interested in new approaches to Bill of Rights claims regarding housing would be well advised to check this out. The abstract reads as follows:
From the theoretical considerations of Kelo v. New London: Deciding the First Case Under the New Bill of Rights, we proceed here to more practical considerations for those who wonder if facts of importance to them are similar to facts of the New Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights. This article takes the next step: it outlines which facts need to be developed and presented in order to convince a Court to consider granting elevated scrutiny to new facts. This brings the New Bill of Rights into practice and lays down the methodology for adding facts to it. It also presents the manner in which a fact of the individual - the new link between Founder intent and facts mentioned in the Constitution - has now become the process of Constitutional adjudication.
Opting Out: Citing lack of services, River Bend wants disannexation from city

Like a marriage that’s gone bad, the city of Brownsville’s annexation of the River Bend Resort area in 2002 has turned sour and one party wants out, complaining they’ve gained nothing from the union. River Bend residents have requested that the area located off of Highway 281 be disannexed and return to an unincorporated area...Although the area is a gated community with private roads, residents are required to pay city taxes for all municipal services, including street repairs.


And expect a lot more of this in months and years to come.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Boing Boing: Tokyo's Nakagin capsule tower
Now, that's what I call high-density living. Someday, will we all be living like this? Is this the ultimate condo? From our Mystery Reader and Contributor, a fascinating sight from Japan: a capsule building.

Built from 1970 and opened in 1972 the Nakagin Capsule Tower was a innovative masterpiece by architect Kisho Kurokawa. Kurokawa developed the technology to install the 2.3m x 3.8m x 2.1m sized capsule units into a concrete core with only 4 high-tension bolts, making the units detachable and replaceable. The capsules were designed to accommodate the individual as either an apartment or studio space, and by connecting units they could also accommodate a family. Complete with appliances and furniture, from audio system to telephone, the capsule interior was pre-assembled in a factory off-site and then hoisted by crane and fastened to the concrete core shaft.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Firefighter Is Among Those Charged in Md. Arson Case (
This just gets stranger all the time. Read the whole thing--it's like a TV movie.

Law enforcement authorities arrested and charged three more people this morning in connection with the early-morning arson fire that engulfed a new housing subdivision in Charles County last week. Among them was a man listed as a member of a volunteer fire department that responded to the blaze...a picture emerged yesterday from documents and interviews of a man who was deeply troubled by the death of his infant son, frustrated in his effort to become a volunteer firefighter and unhappy with the security service that employed him.
[more] Agents fined for murder house (December 19, 2004)
This story is from Australia. Seems the real estate agents sold the house without mentioning that it was the scene of a murder. Oops. Here in the US state laws typically require sellers an agents to make detailed disclosure of known defects, and with HOAs and condos most states have additional disclosure obligations as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The New York Times > National > A.C.L.U.'s Search for Data on Donors Stirs Privacy Fears
You don't find too many examples of irony this thick:
The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights. Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.

It's not easy being green for homeowner
This sort of thing is why people move into HOAs. The city doesn't have an ordinance on house colors. If municipalities want to meet the challenge of CIDs, they need to go back into the traditional business of looking out for the quality of life. They need to do a better job of responding to low-level complaints about minor irritations--stray dogs, spiteful house-painting, obnoxious unsupervised kids, cars parked illegally on lawns and sidewalks, wandering strangers--things that just detract from residents' sense that their neighborhood is a nice place to live. And they need to resolve these things informally if possible. What I see, typically, is municipalities falling back on various legalistic justifications for action or inaction: the truck is illegal, the house color isn't. The dog was/was not on its own property when it was barking and snarling at your child. The wandering stranger was just staring at you from the sidewalk and eyeing the contents of your garage--call us when he steals your barbecue.

Traditionally municipalities weren't afraid to use informal power--now they call their city attorney and ask for a legal opinion before putting up a Christmas display.

(By the way--note that this fellow doesn't even own the house--he rents it from his dad.)

Juan Mata's maroon Kenworth semi-truck means a lot to him. The Lockport man keeps a picture of it tucked inside his wallet. He used to proudly park the truck in the driveway outside his home. So, when his neighbors called police last summer, complaining that the truck was noisy and an eyesore and the police made him move it, Mata, who says none of that's true, got mad. Then, he got even: He has painted his house a brilliant shade of fluorescent green...The police made Mata move the truck because of an ordinance that bans trucks from being parked in residential areas. But there's no ordinance that restricts what color people can paint their houses, city administrator Larry McCasland says. "It's crazy, isn't it?" McCasland says, laughing. Mata's home, which he rents from his father, has become sort of an attraction, drawing people who don't even live in the neighborhood.

WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio: Ashes Set Condo On Fire
What's the lesson here? Don't put fireplace ashes in a flammable container and put the container on your wood deck:

Firefighters were called to a townhouse on Crofton Circle just before midnight on Wednesday. When they arrived, they found smoke pouring out of the home...Officials say the fire started by ashes that has been thrown out. The couple placed them in a plastic can [the video says it was a plastic bucket] and set them on their wood deck.

The next door neighbors got to enjoy the pleasures of attached townhome living as well, when their unit was damaged by the fire, too. The lesson for them is...what? Buy a single family detached home next time, or pick your neighbors more carefully?
sphere: Town-Sponsored Deer Hunt in Greenwich
Tom Anderson, at Sphere, has been posting about a municipal deer hunt that will be done in Greenwich, and he mentions one argument against it that I didn't see here in connection with the North Barrington, IL, gated community:

The town's Representative Town Meeting voted last night to hire sharpshooters to kill deer in three town parks in February. The proposal apparently needs only a permit from the state DEP to proceed. Greenwich would then be the first town in Connnecticut to undertake a deer hunt.
Will it work? The argument against any individual town tackling the deer problem on its own is that killing 20 or 40 or even 100 deer in an area will create a vacuum into which deer from other areas will move and thrive.


Friday, December 17, 2004 | 12/17/2004 | Region scores low in housing report

An influential group of Bay Area business leaders warns of dire consequences if the region fails to build enough homes to keep pace with demand. Together, the nine counties and 101 cities that surround the Bay fail each year to meet the region's housing needs by more than 36,000 units, according to a report made public today by the Bay Area Council. At that pace, by 2030 the Bay Area will fall short of demand by 300,000 units. Also, the region earned an "F" for its tepid effort to build affordable housing. From 1999 to 2003, the Bay Area issued just 29 percent of the permits needed to fill demand, according to the Bay Area Housing Profile.

If you scoll down far enough, you'll see that these folks don't see much of a future in single-family homes. The recommendation is for high density, which means condos, townhomes, and apartments:
The report has suggestions for local governments. It calls for higher density zoning, which would allow developers to build homes closer together and build more multi-family homes and apartments in urban and suburban centers rather than in open space.

Revolving Condominiums?
From a reader, to whom I extend my thanks for this fascinating link:

Suite Vollard: the only revolving building in the world

From the interior of the Suite Vollard building, no landscape is fixed. With the mere pressing of a button, residents of each of the 11 apartments can have 360º panoramic view of the city. Moro, a Curitiba-based construction company, built Suite Vollard. It is a concept-building, and the only revolving building in the world. Architects Bruno de Franco, also technical director with Moro, and Sérgio Silka designed the project, which required the know-how of a large number of professionals in multiple fields of expertise. The complex planning and test phase lasted more than one year. After achieving a perfect balance between mechanical systems that rotate the apartments and the architectonic design, the team chose vinyl window frames as the best technical solution for the facade.
[more, with pictures]
As suburbs expand, residents get unwanted taste of hunting
Maria Shapiro was startled last year when she spotted a stranger carrying a bow and arrow in her suburban neighborhood.

No, he wasn't on his way to the HOA meeting. He was hunting. This has happened near us. Some mothers were chatting at the bus stop while their kids waited for the bus. A dead goose fell at their feet. The hunter was outside the municipality and fired legally, but the goose didn't know about the city code and fell dead inside the city limits. The city tried to pass an ordinance making it illegal to do that--for the hunter, not the goose (who is past caring by this time). Probably not a valid law because of the effort to criminalize conduct (firing) outside the jurisdiction just because Mr. Goose and gravity and wind led to a hard landing inside the muni.
Social Security 'Crisis Is Now,' Bush Says in Pitch for Overhaul
They say President Bush tells his staff he doesn't like to play "small ball." I guess. This is the 800 pound gorilla of American politics, and would be a privatization effort on a par with what happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.
The New York Times > National > Private Guard at Home Site Charged With Arson
Notice the Times had to stick that word "private" in the headline?

A 21-year-old security guard who worked at a new subdivision in southern Maryland was arrested Thursday and charged with setting fires to houses there in the worst case of residential arson in the state's history, federal authorities said.

The facts aren't out in the press yet, and I'm withholding judgment for a while. Remember the Atlanta Olympics, an exploding backpack, and a security guard named Richard Jewell who was arrested and turned out to be innocent? With explosions and fires, a lot of the evidence is gone. The Chicago Tribune ran a story last week about a man who was executed for arson that killed his family, and who
may very well have been innocent.
Joy and Raptor On Fifth Avenue: Manhattan Co-op Reverses Decision to Evict Hawks
That rich folks co-op in Manhattan has decided to allow the hawk named Pale Male to stay. I guess Mary Tyler Moore was on the hawk's side and Paula Zahn's husband was president of the co-op board that evicted birdy. So if you are in the vicinity of 927 Fifth Ave., be careful not to get smacked on the head by a half-eaten pigeon carcass.
AHRC's holiday e-card
What a hoot. Fred Pilot just alerted me to the American Homeowners Resource Center's new e-card. You can view it by clicking the link below. Their main page at has a link for sending them to all your friends and family--if they are all anti-HOA activists.
View card:

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Prairie Crossing -- a conservation community
Here is the link to Prairie Crossing's web site. This is the development I mentioned below, posting a link to a story on their 36-condo "New Urbanist" phase that is going to "remedy" sprawl. You can check out Prairie Crossing for yourself--virtually.
Survey: A new J.D. Power study shows home-buyer satisfaction going up; Pulte takes platinum.

NEW-HOME BUYERS ARE MORE SATISFIED than ever with their builders, even as the number of units built and the average price of a house increases, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study. This year, the national average industry score for customer satisfaction increased from 109 to 112, with 100 being the starting value for the index...Builders receive weighted scores based on nine factors that customers say contribute to their satisfaction: customer service (23 percent), home readiness (18 percent), builder's sales staff (16 percent), quality of workmanship and materials (14 percent), price/value (10 percent), physical design elements (7 percent), design center (5 percent), recreational facilities (4 percent), and location (3 percent). This year's study results included a first-ever Platinum Award for Excellence in Customer Service, presented to Pulte Homes. Its three brands, Pulte, Del Webb, and DiVosta, ranked highest in 14 of 25 markets and were in the top three in 23 of the 24 survey markets in which Pulte builds

Interesting. Nearly all these homes have HOAs, of course. I wonder what would happen if the survey asked them about something besides the home itself--such as the sense of community, the quality of neighborhood governance, or some other measure that would let us see how buyers evaluate the rest of the package.
How to comment on proposed rule requiring escrowing of HOA and condo assessments for FHA-insured mortgages

Let's see if this works. First, here's the info on the regulation:

Agency :
Title :
Revisions to the Single Family Mortgage Insurance Program
Subject Category :
Mortgage and loan insurance programs: Single Family Mortgage Insurance Program-- Mortgages in default; revisions
Docket ID :
CFR Citation :
24 CFR 203
Published :
November 10, 2004
Comments Due :
January 10, 2005
Phase :
How To Comment :
Interested persons are invited to submit comments regarding this rule to the Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel, Room 10276, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20410-0500. Interested persons may also submit comments electronically through either: The Federal eRulemaking Portal at:; or The HUD electronic Web site at: Follow the link entitled View Open HUD Dockets. Commenters should follow the instructions provided on that site to submit comments electronically. Facsimile (fax) comments are not acceptable. In all cases, communications must refer to the docket number and title. All comments and communications submitted will be available, without revision, for public inspection and copying between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at the above address. Copies are also available for inspection and downloading at

Now, here is the direct link for viewing the public comments that have already been submitted. You can also submit your own comments on this regulation from this page:

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Take 36 condos and call me in 2006: New urbanism remedies sprawl in Lake County, Illinois

At Prairie Crossing, to be exact. That would be the environmentally-sensitive and horrifically expensive 359-unit CID in Grayslake, in southern Lake County (we live about 10 miles north of it). Here's the latest phase in Prairie Crossing. This one is modestly heralded as the "remedy" for the demon named Sprawl, to wit: "36 condos, starting at $350,000 in three buildings." I read elsewhere that the top end is over $500,000.

The event was the next big step in an uncertain idea launched 11 years ago - to build an environmentally friendly, commuter-oriented community from scratch. Met with skepticism at the time, the Grayslake neighborhood, located near routes 137 and 45, has thrived as the anti-development development. Located near the rare intersection of crossing Metra commuter rail lines, all but two of 359 single-family homes have been sold. This new chapter, The Condominiums at Prairie Crossing, was presented with assured confidence. "The resistance people are starting to feel toward sprawl is very strong. This is the remedy. As more developments like Prairie Crossing happen, people may begin to think of development as a good thing," said John Norquist, president and CEO of The Congress for New Urbanism.

So, you see, three dozen megabucks condominiums are the solution people have been seeking all along. They just didn't know it. Seriously, though, overdevelopment is a major problem in Lake County, and Prairie Crossing is a beautiful subdivision where they have preserved a large section of prairie and wetland, and in a location where you can choose from two different train lines to go to work . All that is good. But 359 plus 36 equals 395 units, all of which are priced for the wealthy. This pales in comparison to the thousands of conventional new homes (with HOAs) already permitted and breaking ground in Antioch, Lake Villa, Vernon Hills, and elsewhere. Old Mill Creek is about to authorize a 1000 unit subdivision. I don't see any stampede to build more Prairie Crossings. Moreover, Prairie Crossing is still a common interest development with an HOA, so I don't quite see how they will avoid the issues that go along wtih that territory. Maybe we will find out, as it is a place the press loves to cover.
From Australia: Herald Sun: Plants sow seeds of hate [10dec04]
A FLORAL foul-up has left a city street lined with swastika shapes in a week of major Jewish celebrations.Gardeners hired by Melbourne City Council intended to arrange the purple and white pot plants into neat geometric shapes. But they left six 3m garden beds along Swanston St displaying large Nazi symbols. Jewish community representatives were appalled last night by the timing of the blunder. City venues including Federation Square are hosting hundreds of Jews this week to celebrate the eight-day Hanukkah festival.

Take a look at the photo and see if you can imagine it being done "inadvertently"--at least, by anybody with an IQ higher than a rhododendron.
Time for a constitutional amendment?

A reader (in the comments to my post about being "open for comments"--scroll down to the third comment) has come up with a specific proposal: " Amendment to the Constitution, that states, "No Entity, May usurp, or negate any rights that are contained within the Bill of Rights; No Citizen, may give up these rights by contract or any other means."

I wonder what others think of this idea. Any reactions? - News - Couple Threatened With Fine Over Christmas Decoration
Fred Pilot sent this over. The spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge lives on. Reindeer, Santa, lights...I guess that constitutes blight to this HOA?

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Todd and Theresa Patrick may have to pay for showing their Christmas cheer.The Patricks have a reindeer on the roof, a talking Santa Claus at the front door and Christmas lights all over their New Hanover County townhome. But the homeowners association at Marymount Townhomes says if the decorations don't come down, they'll be fined $25 a day.
[more--comments from an attorney who, Borg-like, predicts that "you will be assimilated." Well, not exactly.]
Hostility runs deep in Lake Charleston vote:The community's homeowners association also faced an unsuccessful coup this year, leading to court proceedings
Sounds like a fun time all around.
Privatopia Papers now open for comments go ahead and post them.
How long will HOA issues stay hot in the media?
Fred Pilot and I have been e-mailing back and forth on this issue. Some issues seem to have their day in the sun and then vanish. Remember the tsunami of coverage of the amazing secret invention code-named "Ginger" that turned out to be a two-wheeled thing with a handle that you stand on and ride around at 5 mph? President Bush fell off one, as I recall. Haven't seen many stories about that world-shaking invention recently--and haven't seen any of the thingies themselves, which are called "Segways." On the other hand, other issues are perennials, like crime, war, and anything else that involves conflict. As the saying goes, if it bleeds it leads. So--will the HOA issue be a Segway or a bleeding lead? I'd be interested in what people think on this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Eat at Izzy's
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong here at home. Our seven year old twins (the ones who have been picketing me occasionally) opened a restaurant called "Izzy's" in the family room. They have a menu, two tables, a list of specials, a cash register, and a staff of two--Izzy, the waitress and general boss of the eponymous restaurant, and Conor, the cashier. Hunter (age 13) and I just had imaginary dinner there. Then I asked Izzy to feed our dog, Rocko, and she said, "I can't. I'm on break."

Patriotic sign under fire
Fred Pilot found this example of a California association banning patriotic speech because of a CC&R ban on permanent signs. The owner says, it isn't a sign, it's a philosophy:

APPLE VALLEY — For more than three years, Calvin Ford has displayed a handcrafted plaque above his garage proclaiming a simple, heartfelt message: God Bless America. But now the Wyndham Rose Homeowners' Association, an association of 168 homes in Jess Ranch, is ordering Ford to take down his patriotic placard. The sign, officials say, violates the homeowners' association's rules. Ford acknowledged that the association's CC&Rs — covenants, conditions and restrictions — forbid any permanent signs in the neighborhood. "I don't consider that expression a sign," Ford said. "It's a philosophy we should all be embracing."

Monday, December 13, 2004

CBS 2 Chicago WBBM-TV: Man Evicted From Hut On Chicago Drawbridge
Hey, he was just doing his part to combat the demon named "Sprawl."

CHICAGO (AP) Anyone who thinks it is impossible to find an affordable place on one of the city's priciest streets -- Lake Shore Drive -- should talk to Richard Dorsay. For three or four years that's where the homeless man lived. Actually, he lived under Lake Shore Drive, in a wooden shack built into the beams and girders of the drawbridge that crosses the Chicago River. On Sunday, Dorsay was evicted from his home after another man arrested in suburban Streamwood told police about him.

Can you believe some guy out in the suburbs ratted him out? Sorry. Poor choice of words.
Light infantryman:
Lodi family honors troops in Iraq with annual holiday display

Nothing says happy holidays like, well, a 48-foot American soldier fashioned from rebar and 4,000 feet of twinkling lights. At least in Larry Hamilton's mind...Hamilton and his family live in a remote cluster of manufactured homes five miles west of Interstate 5 on Highway 12. On Sunday, his neighbors and friends gathered in his cul-de-sac, some toasting the soldier with Bud Lights. Many are veterans of hours of light-stringing on the soldier's frame. They love it.

So--top that, you pikers.
Councilman tells baker to pull Bush photos
People ask me, "Why is an HOA any different than a city council when it comes to tyranny?" My answer is always, "The power of a city council is limited by the Constitution--the power of an HOA board isn't. And you can't trust people with governmental power, whether private or public, unless there are constitutional limits on that power." I don't think government officials are superior to HOA directors. In fact, sometimes they are worse.
Submitted for your consideration:
LANCASTER, Pa. — A Democratic city councilman is demanding that a baker remove photos of President Bush from his stand in Lancaster's farmers market, saying the city needs a "healing period" after the bitterly contested election.
City Councilman Nelson Polite asked baker David Stoltzfus last month to remove the pictures. When Mr. Stoltzfus refused, Mr. Polite threatened to push a city ordinance that would ban all political material from public places.

Thank you Councilman Nelson Polite, for proving my point. If there is an award for Most Outrageous Abuse of Municipal Authority, you get my vote. And are you president of your HOA, too, by any chance? -- Politics -- California zeroing in on sprawl
Here is an urban planner's dream. Talk about power--maybe one board controlling all of the real estate development in the state of California? All to slay the demon named "Sprawl." (Condemning sprawl is all the rage in academia--watch for my colleague Bob Bruegmann's forthcoming book that, if I know Bob, will take that cliche apart.) And of course, California's are supposed to live the high-density, attached housing, forced-into-HOAs-against-your-will lifestyle that everybody loves so much. Actually, Senator Peralta, surveys show that Americans have an overwhelming preference for detached single family home ownership, which is why they are moving so far away to find it. The answer is not for state government to usurp local government power in order to make it impossible for people to act on those preferences...unless you think that you have a better idea of how they should live than they do.

On the opening day of the legislative session a week ago, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata talked often about the phenomenon of California homeownership. Parents are chasing that dream to cheaper, faraway towns, then wasting time in cars commuting to work, which hurts families, burdens roads and adds pollution to the air, he said. Perata, D-Alameda, put sprawl at the top of his agenda. He and Schwarzenegger administration officials are looking at a bold, "anti-dumb growth" plan aimed in part at slowing the number of Bay Area residents spilling over the mountains into San Joaquin Valley farmland in search of cheaper homes."We might have to look at something as revolutionary as having the state itself decide on land-use zones and land uses," Perata said. The general idea is to squeeze cheaper homes, apartments and condominiums closer to the urban core and nearby suburbs.There are no specifics yet. But an ambitious series of bills and constitutional amendments expected to be introduced next year will propose usurping the decision-making power of local planning boards, curbing state environmental regulations to lower housing costs, encouraging more housing on old industrial sites and offering extra state money for parks or roads to communities that participate more willingly.
Condo point man embroiled in own legal feud
It looks like some people are a little concerned about Virgil Rizzo's ability to be a fair-handed condo ombudsman. Starting with his neighbors.

When new state condo czar Virgil Rizzo walks into his first meetings with officials in Tallahassee today, a thick envelope full of legal documents will be landing on Gov. Jeb Bush's desk. "The residents of River Reach are requesting that you re-evaluate your selection of Virgil Rizzo for the position of condominium ombudsman," says the letter, which is unsigned, but claims to represent residents of the River Reach condominium in Fort Lauderdale, where Rizzo lives.Rizzo was named state condo ombudsman last week by Bush to prevent condo disputes from escalating into lawsuits. He will work with a $4 million budget fueled by a $4 per-unit fee paid by condo owners. The state legislature created the position this year. His fans, including state legislators and advocates for condo dwellers, say he is the right man to reform a state condo complaint system that has been ineffective for years and is under state investigation. His detractors, including the board of his own condo association, say he is a litigious troublemaker filing baseless claims to harass them. In response, Rizzo says officers of his condo board filed countersuits only to punish him for his charges of financial mismanagement.The legal brouhaha has continued for two years, with suits, countersuits, charges, countercharges and no end in sight.

[more] - Buildings to go up like never before
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
Residential and commercial development in the next quarter-century will eclipse anything seen in previous generations as the nation moves to accommodate rapid population growth, according to a Brookings Institution report Monday. About half the homes, office buildings, stores and factories that will be needed by 2030 don't exist today, says Arthur C. Nelson, author of the report for the think tank in Washington, D.

Couple this with the fact that as much as 80% of the new housing is in CIDs and you can see how important is for the nation to come to grips with the problems CIDs present.
Florida press finally discovers that Nevada got there first, but still gets the facts wrong
The reporters in Florida who are trying to figure out what an ombudsman is have finally discovered that Nevada, not Florida, originated the idea. They have now discovered Eldon Hardy, who has been doing this in Nevada since 2001. But the reporter who did this article still doesn't know that Mary Lynn Ashworth was first. She became the nation's first CIC ombudsman in 1998, and held the position until Hardy took it over (see below). So Florida is on the cutting edge of being in second place by six years.

If these folks would just read The Privatopia Papers they could avoid some of these mistakes. :-)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The New York Times > National > Neighbors of Burned Homes Pained by Suburban Sprawl
Followup to the gigantic arson in Maryland, about which there have been reports (including this one) that mention environmental terrorists as the perpetrators. As yet, no suspects named. But here we have the NYT focusing on the long-standing opposition by neighbors to having this development built. Whatever the motive, the fires have highlighted a long and contentious battle over whether this instant dose of suburban density belonged here. The flames seem unlikely to alter the outcome: the developer of Hunters Brooke said this week that the houses would be rebuilt. The demon named Sprawl, bane of academic urban planners everywhere, rears its ugly head. It's so...unplanned.

...For years, local citizens fought their way from the Charles County Planning Commission to the federal courts to preserve the bog. It was not just the wetland, one of the few remaining magnolia bogs in the mid-Atlantic region, that they sought to preserve. They cherish their isolation from Washington's inexorably spreading suburbs. They do not want to lose their chance to see the full panoply of stars in the deeper dark of a rural night.

For Patricia Stamper, a 66-year-old government statistician who has lived up a dirt road in the Mason Springs area with her horses for 30 years, it is impossible to untangle her concern for the environment from her anger that "a high density housing complex is being dumped on us all at once."

BBC NEWS | Americas | US woman 'strangles Rottweiler'
At the risk of turning into Matt Drudge, I had to post this one.

A Florida woman is under investigation for allegedly strangling a neighbour's Rottweiler after it attacked her Yorkshire terrier.
Flashback to 2003: Nevada HOA ombudsman was also "flooded" with complaints
I mentioned below that Mary Lynn Ashworth and Eldon Hardy were ombudspersons for the State of Nevada long before Florida ever thought of creating such an office. Note the similarity in press coverage when Hardy took over from Mary Lynn:

Home sour home
State ombudsman flooded with homeowner association woes

By Larry Wills

On Eldon Hardy's office wall is a list of rules for kindergarten kids on how to behave: Be nice to each other. Don't hit people. Put things back where they belong. Hold hands when you go outside. Hardy, as the state's ombudsman for homeowners' associations, wishes more people would follow those rules. If so, his job would be much easier. But they obviously don't. Hardy's office has grown from three people in 2001 to an authorized 11 staffers this year, with a caseload that's approaching 300. It seems to be the fastest-growing office in state government. He points to a six-inch stack of phone logs, documenting an average of 80 complaints a day from homeowners about their associations. In a three-week period, he personally answered 1,280 calls. "We hear from about 10 percent of the homeowners' associations," says Hardy, a nationally certified arbitrator. "Some associations have as many as seven homeowners filing complaints."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Northoftampa: Carrollwood: Standards officer to police neighborhood
Fred Pilot sent this along. He noted the reference to "dirty work." How did that song go? "I don't wanna do your dirty no more."

CARROLLWOOD - Homeowners in the Country Place subdivision will no longer have to volunteer to cruise the streets and cite other neighbors for deed violations.

Board members recently hired a person who lives outside the neighborhood to do the dirty work.
Florida's new condo ombudsman finds phone is already ringing

Oh, yes indeed. I think we can safely assume that he will not have to drum up business. But the reporter is wrong--Rizzo is not "the nation's first condominium ombudsman." He is the third. Mary Lynn Ashworth was the first, for the state of Nevada, with jurisdication over all forms of common interest housing including condos, and she took the job in 1998 and held the job until Eldon Hardy took over from her and became number two, in (I think) 2001. I receive a wonderful Christmas card from Mary Lynn this year. Thanks again, Mary Lynn.

He doesn't have an office yet or even a business phone number, but already angry condo owners are tracking down Virgil R. Rizzo at his Fort Lauderdale apartment and bending his ear.

"It's been unending. I've been getting calls at home all day long starting at 8 a.m.," said Rizzo, the nation's first condominium ombudsman. "People have legitimate complaints but they, unbelievably, expect me to resolve them immediately."
[more] | Take that, property owner!

(December 11, 2004)

A MELBOURNE man is seeking an apology from energy company TXU after it sent him a letter addressed to "Paranoid Fool". Hawthorn photographer Albert Comper was shocked and appalled yesterday when he received the letter, which began "Dear Paranoid". Mr Comper, 28, had telephoned TXU and other energy companies last month seeking the best deal for his newly acquired rental property.
[more, but still a mystery]

Talking House / New radio service adds to real estate saturation in our lives

How's this for a real estate sales technique? There is now...

...a technology called Talking House, by giving a house its own radio channel transmitted from a box in the garage to anyone within 300 feet of the home, allows you to tune into a detailed description of a house without even getting out of your car. I noticed my first Talking House last month at 473 Andover St., in Bernal Heights, when I spotted a rather goofy-looking sign reading "Talking House: Tune into 1670 AM." Outside, the dwelling looked like a plain-Jane Marina-style, two-bedroom home over a one-car garage. But the Talking House set me straight: Encompassing 2,300 square feet on a double lot, the house boasts two more bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs behind the garage and a giant rumpus room that opens out onto a deck and the L-shaped yard. "If you like country living, then this home's for you," said the recording by listing agent Monique Wong-Lee. "It's a dog lover's dream."
Did Kerik withdraw because of condo dispute?
President Bush chose Bernard Kerik, former NYC Police Commissioner, to succeed Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security. Kerik just withdrew his nomination, saying he had a nanny problem. But there may be more to it than the "hired an illegal alien and didn't pay the taxes" thing. Maybe the real problem is that he didn't pay his condo assessments:

just five years ago he was in financial trouble over a condominium he owned in New Jersey. More serious trouble than anyone realized: NEWSWEEK has discovered that a New Jersey judge in 1998 had issued an arrest warrant as part of a convoluted series of lawsuits relating to unpaid bills on his condo...The lawsuit relating to Kerik’s apartment stems from his failure to pay maintenance fees. A court found that Kerik owed about $5,000 on the unit. When Kerik failed to comply with a subpoena related to the unpaid bill, a judge on Aug. 24, 1998 issued a warrant for Kerik’s arrest. It is unclear whether the warrant was ever served or withdrawn. Court computer records indicate that the lawsuit remains open, but there was some confusion on Friday over the location of the full record.
The Polarization Express (
I have argued that the spread of HOAs could contribute to political polarization because of niche marketing and the different relationship to public government. Here is a conference devoted to answering whether America is, in fact, becoming more politically polarized. The consensus, it seems, is "yes."

PRINCETON, N.J. -- The title of the conference held here last weekend, appropriately enough, included a question mark: "The Polarization of American Politics: Myth or Reality?" The 45 academics, politicians and journalists who gathered at Princeton University's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics never reached a vote, but all the evidence pointed toward the second alternative... James Gimpel of the University of Maryland and Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman showed that "red" and "blue" voters are increasingly living in separate enclaves, with distinctive lifestyles, attitudes and partisan leanings shared among neighbors. To that extent, most of the conferees agreed, polarization is not just a phenomenon affecting politicians but something rooted in deeper social changes. Especially as sophisticated line-drawing for new congressional districts combines with the emerging pattern of like-minded voters living in geographical clusters, the latent divisions in American culture are made explicit on Election Day.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Australian: Scrapbook: Battle for free-market agenda is only half won [December 10, 2004]
From the Dean of the Free Market, 92-year-old Milton Friedman himself:
After World War II, opinion was socialist while practice was free market; currently, opinion is free market while practice is heavily socialist. We have largely won the battle of ideas; we have succeeded in stalling the progress of socialism, but we have not succeeded in reversing its course. We are still far from bringing practice into conformity with opinion. That is the overriding non-defence task for the second Bush term. It will not be an easy task, particularly with Iraq threatening to consume Bush's political capital.

True--it would not be easy, but then President Bush has shown no real indication of wanting to "reverse the course" of this trend to make the federal government ever-larger. - Neighborhood rules on the line
Interesting story forwarded by Fred Pilot that draws the obvious but often ignored parallel between municipal codes and HOA rules.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Poppy Madden has emerged as an unlikely hero in a campaign known as the "Laundry Wars." She has triumphed — twice — at City Hall for the right to hang her wash in the hot Florida sun.
"I'm still hanging my purple panties," Madden says. Her clothesline is protected from neighbors' complaints by a state law that encourages solar power — in this case, using the sun rather than a clothes dryer.

"Seeing clean laundry hanging in a yard is a lot less of a problem than having someone's loose dog leave a deposit on your lawn, she says."

The clothesline battle in this waterfront city is the latest chapter in a familiar story about the balance between personal freedom and community standards. Such disputes can stem from city codes, which was the case with Madden's clothesline, or from restrictions set by homeowners associations.
Eminent Domain Watch
Thanks to John Ryskamp for sending me this link to a blog on eminent domain, with loads of links on the Kelo case. And the author has the good taste to use the same format I do.
Welcome to
Here is the excellent site put together by Chris Webster of Cardiff University, Wales, and Georg Glasze of the University of Mainz, Germany.

Thursday, December 09, 2004 / News / Nation / Hawks evicted from Fifth Ave.
Most of the stories about common interest communities deal with condominium or homeowner associations. Ocasionally I run across one that deals with the housing cooperatives. Most of those stories deal with co-op boards rejecting famous would-be buyers. Here's a new issue:

NEW YORK -- They can't go home again, but two well-known red-tail hawks evicted from their nest atop a posh Fifth Avenue building were trying to do just that yesterday...The urban drama began to unfold Tuesday, in the rain, when workmen raised a scaffold to the top of the building and tore out the nest that lay over an arched cornice. The nest was anchored by spikes originally intended to keep pigeons from depositing their droppings. The workers removed the spikes too. or the past nine years, thousands of bird lovers have come to see to the nest on the 12th-floor ledge that's been home to Pale Male, so named for his plumage. There, he fathered 25 chicks with a succession of mates -- the last three fledglings in June.
The hawks gained fame through television specials and a book, ''Red-Tails in Love."..Brown Harris Stevens Property Management Services issued a statement yesterday saying that they do not own the property and had acted ''on behalf of the cooperative building owners in a management capacity. . . . The building researched and carried out the removal of the nest during an inactive period as a safety precaution." ''What strikes me is the selfishness of a small group of residents who are scarcely affected, but have robbed thousands of people, including children, of the pleasure of these magnificent birds, right by Central Park," Matthiessen said. ''These animals are a wonderful show of how nature can exist in the city. This was a violent, disruptive act."

But I'll bet the local pigeons were cheering. They were probably tired of being lunch.
California, U.S. in a Housing 'Bubble,' UCLA Forecast Says
Economists at UCLA have invoked the B-word again. In an outlook to be formally released today, forecasters say California and the nation are beset by a housing "bubble" that will depress construction next year, slowing the nation's economic recovery.Yet the fallout from the bubble in California won't be devastating, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast. Indeed, the Golden State's economy will expand at a faster clip than the nation's in 2005, thanks in part to a recovering Bay Area, the widely watched forecast says. ..
Outside of California, overbuilding is viewed as the main problem by UCLA. One telling statistic: The nation has added one new residential unit for every adult added to the population over the last two years. The historical average is one unit for every 1.7 new adults.The bottom line: Today's pace of construction can't be sustained, Leamer said. Housing starts nationwide are expected to slow to 1.8 million units next year from 1.94 million this year.

I wouldn't mind a slowdown in new housing construction. I think there is a lot of over-building going on, concentrated in "hot" areas that in a few years will be practically unliveable. The traffic congestion on feeder roads will cost you two hours just to get from home to the expressway. The schools will be over-capacity with kids in trailers, and the voter/taxpayers will refuse to pay more. And sooner or later--especially in California--people will say "no thanks" to mediocre tract homes with HOAs, located in the middle of nowhere, that cost $500,000. That's the cure for "sprawl." Not a dictatorial regional planning board, a la Portland. Failure of demand. Works every time.
Judge orders vet to remove Marine flag - 12/7/04
Follow-up to post of a few days ago. As usual the trial court rules against the homeowner. A deal is a deal, a rule is a rule. Next stop: the state legislature? That's what happened with armed forces flags in Illinois--allowed, per the State Legislature.
CEO Insights - November/December 2004: CAI to comment on proposed assessment escrow rule
If you scroll down to the bottom of this page you can see that CAI is requesting comments on this rule. Perhaps some readers of this weblog have comments:

If you would like to provide input on this proposal, please contact Molly Foley-Healy, CAI’s vice president of government and public affairs, at or (703) 797-6266.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

HUD proposes rule requiring lenders to escrow HOA and condo assessments
Here's the text of the proposed rule in .pdf format. Read it for yourself. This is potentially a major bombshell. Imagine there's no assessment collection's easy if you assessment striking more listening to them cry...
Sorry...I was channelling John Lennon there for a minute. I'm fine now.

What does this mean? How about...that the federal government considers the assessment stream important enough to the public weal to require escrowing like property taxes? How does that square with the "HOAs are private" litany?
Boing Boing: Update on Louis Rossetto's mother's house
This was passed on to me by a reader. It is a detailed account from the weblog BoingBoing of a Landmark Preservation Committee in the People's Republic of Berkeley. Very interesting reading. This is so similar to the reactions people report about their HOA Architectural Review Committee that I think it merits consideration--even if you do away with HOAs, you are not free. There are layers of oversight lurking to waylay you. I'd thank the person by name but all I have is an e-mail address and I hate to give those out without permission--so, thanks!

Update on Louis Rossetto's mother's house--
A couple of days ago, I wrote about the problems Louis Rossetto's mother was having trying to get permission from the city to add a small addition to her house in Berkeley (Link). On Monday, Berkeley's Landmarks Preservation Commission held a meeting to decide whether to grant landmark status to the house. In short, his mother got permission to build the addition. Congratulations!
Here's Louis' report from the meeting:

A report from the front: the battle was lost - but the war won!
[the details of the meeting follow]

The author of the meeting narrative says he was...

...saddened to have witnessed first hand a truly arbitrary, philistine process that must be repeated ad nauseum across America, and that causes neighborhood wars, promotes mediocrity (if not worse), and can leave people emotionally and financially ruined without even protecting the alleged purposes of the landmark ordinances. As my mother wrote in her ad, this wasn't about preservation, this was about the local Soviet trying to assert its control over the block.

Yahoo! News - Parents Go on Strike, Move to Front Yard
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my 7 year old twins picket me with a special "Dad Unfair, Big Bad Bear!" sign. Now, at last, parents are striking back. Where do I go to join the picket line?

DELTONA, Fla. - Even though the dishes, garbage and dirty laundry were piling up, homeowners Cat and Harlan Barnard were getting no help from their two children. After begging and pleading with their 17-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter to help out around the house, the Barnards decided they were fed up. So they went on strike — and moved out to the front yard.


Berkshire Eagle Online - Editorials--Coup and counter-coup in Becket, Mass.
Fred Pilot once again reaches down into the boiling soup of HOA living and retrieves this amazing nugget:

There's always been something of the Wild West about Becket, and this latest donnybrook involving the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association is true to form. The SFNA was a sleepy little voluntary homeowners' association in the 600-acre subdivision created in one of the worst land-use decisions in the history of Berkshire County. But that was before a Dover attorney, Carl N. Edwards, got himself elected vice president last year in a stacked meeting and began working to create a sort of shadow town government. He changed the bylaws to preclude any challenges to his power, and began issuing tax bills to finance the expanded activities of the Neighborhood Association, which included the removal of unregistered pleasure boats. It's supposed to take an act of the Legislature to establish a government with the power to tax, but Mr. Edwards told anyone who questioned him that it was all legal under common law. Last Sunday afternoon, the neighbors mobilized to take back the Neighborhood Association. They decided to hire an attorney to represent them against the titular leadership of their organization, and to re-enfranchise themselves to participate in its deliberations. It's quite a to-do, even by Becket standards. Stay tuned.
I will. Stay tuned, that is.
Update: On December 15, 2007, I received a letter from the aforementioned attorney Carl N. Edwards of Dover, MA, along with a press release from the United Auto Workers announcing the end of the litigation and a CD full of supporting documentation. Mr. Edwards says that Harry Sykes "was a licensed contractor who had bought multiple lots in Sherwood Forest and had been issued a premit to build over a retention basin on a tiny portion of wetlands in violation of at least a dozen state and local laws, and contrary to the requirements of the Federal Rivers Act. Since the land was in running water, the local political road district attempted to help Sykes and the official who issued him the permit by digging a drainage trench. The trench, however, ran up hill; flooding the neighborhood and washing out a road. Bob Madore lived in the flooded neighborhood and joined abuttern in what became the high profile case known as Madore v. Sykes. Madore had led the unionization of the Berkshire Eagle in 1997, and would subsequently play key roles in union victories at other newspapers owned by the Eagle's parent corporation." Edwards' press release goes on to say that Syke's complaint about Madore was dismissed as lacking in credibility. He says that despite the Berkshire Eagle's support for Sykes in its coverage, Sykes did not prevail in court (I presume in the litigation over the flooding), and the building permit expired. Madore has been elected head of the Northeast District of the UAW, and for additional information (so says the press release), you can contact:
Joelyn Leon, United Auto Workers Region 9A, at

For my part, I have no opinion regarding what happened or who is right, other than there are two conflicting accounts and I am making them available.
Small condo groups deal with their owners' quirks
Thanks to Fred Pilot for spotting this. Small condo developments are popping up all over the place. Chicago has zillions of them, and here is San Francisco with the same thing. People convert small apartment buildings to small condo buildings. Then instead of a landlord taking care of the place, you have a condo association. Fine in theory, but in practice a gene pool of four to ten owners isn't likely to yield enough people willing and able to run the building. So now what? Municipalities can either let many of these buildings go to pot (for you San Franciscans, I don't mean the herbal recreational kind) or do something to keep them afloat. But how about not allowing them to be set up in the first place?

here's a saying that the only thing harder to manage than a three- unit condominium is a two-unit one. While owners in large developments can rely on a professional management company, small building unit owners don't have this buffer. They are usually their own trustees and must persuade their fellow trustee-owners to agree to a new roof or paint job. Bad feelings can follow a negative vote, and just one obstructionist or irresponsible owner can turn the most elegant converted Victorian home into a battleground.
[more] Homeowners' associations able to bring out the best, the worst and the absurd in neighbors
At least, they seem to bring out the worst in the author of the article. "Poop free or die"? But he goes on to take a look at the bigger picture.

...when the notification came out that our homeowners' association (HOA) was seeking people to run for its board, I very seriously considered doing my part and taking a turn on the board. I even thought out my campaign strategy, as this is something you have to be elected to. I planned to rally the people in the neighborhood who walk their dogs in the greenspace without bothering with the plastic poop baggies. My campaign slogan, "Poop free or die," I would plaster all over the neighborhood on little plastic signs. I'd promise that, if elected, I would move to dump the clean-up-after-your-dog rule so that they would no longer feel guilty about not picking up after their dogs.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004 Va. man ordered to pay damages for motel mess...Room was coated with petroleum jelly

Entry Number One in the "Weird Crimes Against Property" Awards...

BINGHAMTON -- A Virginia man who admitted Monday to coating his motel room with the contents of 14 jars of petroleum jelly in May will have to pay $3,886 for damages to the motel.
...Chamberlain was charged May 10 after he coated every object in a Motel 6 room in the Town of Chenango with petroleum jelly, Broome County sheriff's deputies said.
Mathews didn't ask Chamberlain on Monday why he coated his room with petroleum jelly, and Chamberlain didn't offer any explanation.
[more, including photo of Mr. Petroleum Jelly.}

I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for ? Star Wars Battle in NJ
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, NJ-December 7, 2004 — Not so long ago in a galaxy five miles southwest of Philadelphia, Mike Degirolamo had a plan. But the authority in his sector sought to suppress it. The plan was to build a 20-by-12-foot model of a Jawa Sandcrawler, a relatively obscure icon from the original "Star Wars" film, before the next installment of the saga "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" opens in May. To get the project done, he doesn't need the Force, but rather the power to persuade the township council it's a worthy project. The council is planning a special meeting to discuss whether Degirolamo will be allowed to erect the ode to the movies he loves on the property of a local business. ...Degirolamo, 38, is a "Star Wars" fanatic who built a 35-foot model of a different sci-fi ship for the opening of the last Star Wars installment in 2002.
hat massive model was assembled in Degirolamo's yard. After neighbors complained and inspectors showed up, he had to put up a fence.
It could be worse. What if he was a Ben Affleck fan?
Gov. Bush taps retired Fort Lauderdale doctor/lawyer as state's condo ombudsman
Fred Pilot sent along this article about the new Florida condo ombudsman. Note the part about the "bitter dispute" with his own association.

A retired Fort Lauderdale doctor and lawyer has been chosen to serve as the first condominium ombudsman in the nation, a position that will require him to educate more than 1 million condo owners and to resolve disputes with their 17,000 associations.

The appointment of Virgil R. Rizzo, 67, who is in the middle of a bitter lawsuit with his own condo association, was announced Monday by Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida Legislature created the position earlier this year over the objection of many condo lawyers and directors. Supporters of the law said they would try to add homeowner associations to the ombudsman's jurisdiction at the legislative session that begins in March.
Yahoo! News - Eco-Terrorism Suspected in Md. Fires
More on this--was this an act of domestic terrorism?
INDIAN HEAD, Md. - More than a dozen expensive homes under construction were burned down early Monday in a suburban Washington housing development that had been criticized by environmentalists because it is next to a nature preserve, officials said. An FBI (news - web sites) agent said the fires may have been set by environmental extremists. A dozen homes were destroyed and 29 others damaged near the state's Mattawoman Natural Environment Area. No injuries were reported. The damage was estimated at at least $10 million. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Faron Taylor, a deputy state fire marshal, said investigators believe fires were set in at least four of the homes, which were priced at $400,000 to $500,000. Taylor refused to say what led investigators to conclude it was arson.

Note that the person who wrote the article refers to "environmental extremists," and then whoever wrote the headline used the term "eco-terrorism." There are some fine distinctions made these days over use of the word "terrorist." The folks in Iraq who are taking hostages, sawing their heads off and mailing the videos to Al-Jazeera, and blowing up people standing in line at police stations are called "militants," "insurgents," or "rebels," but never terrorists, even though by any conventional definition of the word they are terrorists. ANow, what about these domestic terrorists (if this was politically motivated arson)? Are they going to be called terrorists, or "extremists"?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Arson Destroys 12 New Md. Homes (
A dozen empty houses in a new Maryland subdivision that is the focus of a long-running environmental dispute were destroyed and numerous others were damaged yesterday in what officials said were more than 20 coordinated, methodically planned arsons.

No one was hurt, but the attack left the Hunters Brooke subdivision, near Indian Head in Charles County, scarred with blackened, gutted houses, and it terrified the quiet community near the Potomac River about 25 miles downstream from the District.

This has been happening out west, in the San Diego and LA areas, for some time. It's a new front in the old wars over development. Most people go to the village council meeting and complain. They win or lose, and if they lose they stay or move. These folks, however, flick their Bics. The issue is whether the second Bush administration will treat them as the domestic terrorists they really are, or whether it will ignore them as Clinton I and II and Bush I did. Do they have bigger fish to fry? That's what they said about Al Qaida in 1995.
Marc Steyn: An Englishman's home is his dungeon
Steyn at his best, reflecting on the fact that hot prowl burglaries (done with the resident at home) are rampant in the UK. Why? Steyn says because the crooks know people have no firearms, and because of the practice of prosecuting victims for using too much force in defending themselves against criminals who invade their homes:

An Englishman's home is not his castle, but his dungeon and ever more so - window bars, window locks, dead bolts, laser security, and no doubt biometricrecognition garage doors, once the Blunkett national ID card goes into circulation...In America, it's called a "hot" burglary - a burglary that takes place when the homeowners are present - or a "home invasion", which is a much more accurate term. Just over 10 per cent of US burglaries are "hot" burglaries, and in my part of the world it's statistically insignificant: there is virtually zero chance of a New Hampshire home being broken into while the family are present. But in England and Wales it's more than 50 per cent and climbing. Which is hardly surprising given the police's petty, well-publicised pursuit of those citizens who have the impertinence to resist criminals...In New Hampshire, there are few burglaries because there's a high rate of gun ownership. Getting your head blown off for a $70 TV set isn't worth it. Conversely, thanks to the British police, burning the flesh of a London dressmaker to get her watch is definitely worth it...

Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners' Association :: ACLU of New Jersey
Here's a summary of the Twin Rivers case from the New Jersey ACLU website. The case is on appeal. There are also links to the complaint and the ACLU brief. I don't know what the briefing schedule is.
Macomb Daily : Marine Corps flag dispute goes to court 12/06/04
A circuit court judge today may decide whether a Macomb Township man can continue flying a U.S. Marine Corps flag at his condominium. The Windmere Common I Association is seeking a preliminary injunction against John and Joanne O'Brien to remove the flag, which is attached to the front of the garage, an alleged violation of the association's by-laws.

O'Brien "delivered a flier explaining the situation to all 92 units and no one has indicated they oppose his flag." But, predictably, the association attorney makes the slippery slope argument--if this is allowed then we'll have a Klingon flag next, yada, yada, yada. "You start down that slippery slope," he said. "Someone could display the flag of the Taliban, Iraq, the Viet Cong or Nazis." Right. I'm sure there's a whole line of fascist just waiting to put up their favorite flag if the USMC banner is allowed to remain.
Yahoo! News - Holiday Displays Take Over Neighborhoods
Fred Pilot rings the Salvation Army Christmas bell with this story of holiday lights gone berserk, straight outa Geneva. Illinois, that is:

GENEVA, Ill. - Greg Parcell isn't thinking about the 50,000 lights all around him, or the computer that has them blinking to the beat of "Let it Snow" on the radio. Instead, his mind is on what's missing as he stands in what seems the one empty spot in his front yard. "I still have to put up the penguins around the campfire," he says. Parcell, 47, is a toy soldier in a growing army of Christmas enthusiasts becoming more sophisticated at turning yards into blazing monuments to the holidays. New companies are cropping up with elaborate, automated decorations and the computer equipment to coordinate them, giving anyone with a wallet the ability to create scenes similar to a theme park...In Monte Sereno, Calif., a couple whose huge display attracted thousands of passers-by angered neighbors and led the city council to require a permit for any exhibit lasting longer than three days. This year, the yard holds a 10-foot Grinch, its spiny finger pointing at the house of the neighbors who initiated the complaints.


Sunday, December 05, 2004 -10 questions you ought to ask your homebuilder
"I know the colors and special little features are more fun to think about and easier for people to understand, but they don't matter much if you don't have quality construction," said Peter Robberson, president of the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Home Inspectors and owner of Welcome Home Inspections in Colorado Springs.

Important questions to ask before, during and after construction of a new house:

1 Who is building the home?
[more...nine more, to be exact] / News / Local / Bradford gun club drawing concern
Six months after a bullet was accidentally fired into a Haverhill neighborhood from a local shooting range, neighbors say they want answers about what has been done to prevent a similar incident from happening.

Yes, I imagine some answers would be in order.
Article: Teenagers fail to see the consequences?| New Scientist
Juveniles may find it harder than adults to foresee the consequences of their actions. The finding may explain why teenagers act compulsively and take more risks
[more, but if you didn't know this you have never met a teenager]
Somebody paid for this study? OK. I want to study the behavior of objects that are suspended on a rope and then released. Do they fall, or rise, or remain hanging in space. Can I get some money for that?

Tampa Bay's 10 News:"TRAILER TRASH" headline breaks controversy
So now it's OK to call people "rednecks" (see below about the Barrington anti-deer hunting "I'm a mom") and "trailer trash"? I think "hillbilly" is also permissible--some college football coach yelled that at the other team's fans a couple of weeks ago--I think they were Oklahoma fans. You also hear "cracker" thrown around, along with "white trash."

What do these words have in common? They are negative steretypical words used to describe working class white people, who are now the only group it is permissible to ethnically slur. Is this supposed to be progress?

Rutherford Institute's amicus curiae brief in Kelo v. City of New London
If you like property rights, and I know lots of HOA activists say they do, then you will love this brief. You have the Magna Carta, Federalist No. 10, Calder v.'s a cornucopia of property rights delights. Give it read.
SSRN-Kelo v. New London: Deciding the First Case Under the New Bill of Rights by John Ryskamp
Thanks to John Ryskamp for e-mailing me with the link to his article on the case of Kelo v. New London, currently before the United States Supreme Court.
Here's the abstract of his article, with my emphasis:

The Supreme Court has just decided to hear Kelo v. New London (No. 04-108). The Court will use the case to decide--for the first time in thirty years - whether there should be elevated scrutiny of housing. Previous cases - such as San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, Lindsey v. Normet and Dandridge v. Williams--rejected such elevation, but the Court indicated that it was prepared to raise scrutiny if there was a proper Constitutional formulation which located such scrutiny in the Constitution. This paper provides the formulation, beginning with James Madison's statement that the Constitution prevents every assumption of power in the legislative or executive. For the first time, the author shows how Madison's use of the word every brings housing and similar facts, under the jurisdiction of the Constitution and mandates elevated scrutiny. Given the administrative and political problems inherent in imposing a higher level of scrutiny on housing, the author provides different scenarios for adjudication.

I think this is potentially a very significant case that could have major impact. My Constitutional Law class did a simulation on it. Students played the role of current USSC judges, hold conferences, and vote as they think their own justice would. Last week we held the final vote. Result: 6-3 to reverse the Connecticut Supreme Court and give the win to the property owner, Kelo. Here's the breakdown:

Reverse (meaning Kelo wins): Rehnquist (I know, he's sick--but the student who played him felt fine); Scalia; Thomas; O'Connor, Kennedy; and (shocker) Breyer.

Affirm (meaning New London wins): Stevens; Ginsburg; Souter. Homeowners association picks a fight with man over American flag
Not again. Please. Not again. Is there a psychologist in the house who can explain why HOA directors do this?
ABC13 Eyewitness News
(12/03/04 - HOUSTON) — The American flag is in the middle of a fight between a west Harris County man and his homeowners association.
"Old Glory" has been sitting on Charles Watson’s front lawn on Glen Eagles near Grousemoor for more than five years, but his homeowner's association now says it must go. It claims the former serviceman, who has family serving in Iraq, did not get prior approval before making home improvements, and the flag is in violation. The flag can be mounted on the house, but not on the lawn.

Neighbors don’t object to the flag’s placement, and Watson refuses to move it, saying he has earned the right to display the flag. The association has until December 7 to respond to paperwork filed by Watson.

Proposal Would Hit Blue State Taxpayers
Can't remember if I posted on this before, but it has been in the press.

As President Bush lays the groundwork for a possible overhaul of the U.S. tax code, one option under consideration would deal its biggest financial blow to citizens of blue states such as California and New York. Some conservative activists are urging the Bush administration to scrap the federal deduction for state and local taxes as part of a broader plan to revamp the nation's tax system...Taxpayers in California and New York, for example, which have top state income tax rates of 9.3% and 6.5% respectively, would be highly affected; residents of Florida and Texas, which have no state income taxes, much less so.

That's quite a bite. So, New Yorkers would pay 9.3% of their income to the state, and then pay federal tax on that portion of their income as well. Ow.
Lawmaker Seeks to Privatize State Pensions
Thanks to Fred Pilot for spotting this. Tax collection, pensions...this is a big day for announcing new privatization initiatives, isn't it?

Declaring rising pension debt a "ticking time bomb," a California legislator proposes converting public employee retirements from a traditional defined-benefit system to the 401(k)-style plans held by most American workers.

Employees hired by a public agency after July 1, 2007, would automatically be enrolled in the new contribution plan proposed by Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). The plan would make pension payments for public agencies more predictable and potentially lower costs, he said.
Private Firms to Chase Delinquent Taxpayers (
I don't like the sound of this at all. The part about the private collectors keeping up to 25% of the amounts they recover seems like a strong incentive to engage in, shall we say, rapacious collections practices.

When Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) teamed up in September to get the House to pass an amendment blocking the use of private companies to collect back taxes from delinquent taxpayers, it seemed the Bush administration plan might be doomed for at least a year.

But in the final hours of drafting a 3,300-page spending bill last month, House and Senate negotiators eliminated Capito's and Van Hollen's handiwork, clearing the way for the Internal Revenue Service to hire commercial debt collectors. These private agents could keep as much as 25 percent of the amounts they recovered.

While the Bush administration has strongly supported the initiative as a way to increase revenue collections amid growing deficits, critics contend it could lead to harassment of taxpayers and breaches of privacy. Labor groups representing federal workers also oppose the change. But it has the backing of the debt-collection industry, which has contributed heavily to GOP organizations and causes since Bush became president.